2013 Ford Fusion

LOS ANGELES — When we got our first look at the 2013 Ford Fusion at the Detroit auto show last January we were astounded. What a great-looking mid-sized sedan. Since than it has received rave reviews from the automotive press.This is the bold styling that has been lacking at Toyota and Honda. But, we thought, will this turn out to be just a fancy new wrapper for the same old contents?

We had to wait nearly nine months for the answer and we are happy to report it is a resounding no. After spending time here with two EcoBoost engines that are the heart and soul of the new Fusion — and perhaps the most engaging mid-sized hybrid sedan so far in the 21st Century — we can report the Fusion's new beauty extends far beyond styling.

It was evident to us that Ford’s engineers and designers stretched the envelope in developing the new sedan.

Styling begins with an all-new front end and grille. Rather than the three wide chrome bars of old there’s a more upscale trapezoid grille with more, but smaller bars that are totally reminiscent of the legendary Aston-Martin. The side has a double beltline and wrap-around headlight. Ford has engineered a 10 percent reduction in aerodynamic drag from the 2012 model, allowing the new Fusion to slip through the wind and achieve one of the quietest interiors found on any vehicle, let alone one in the mid-size segment.

The rear has an up-swept appearance with attractive, wrap-around taillamps. Chrome exhaust tips highlight the image. There are several great-looking polished and chrome-finished aluminum wheels in several sizes from which to choose.

The new Fusion is the first sedan to offer gasoline, hybrid and plug-in hybrid powertrains. It only offers an inline four-cylinder engine but has a choice of three different ones, beginning with the 2.5L iVCT and is expected to be the most-ordered powerplant. It has 175 horsepower and 175 pound-feet of torque.

But the big news involves two new turbocharged EcoBoost engines, a 1.6-liter that produces 178 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque, and can ordered with either a six-speed automatic or six-speed manual; and a 2.0-liter EcoBoost that produces 240 horsepower and 270 pound-feet of torque.

The 2.0-liter can be purchased in front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive mated to a SelectShift six-speed automatic transmission. EPA estimated fuel economy for the gasoline engines are in the 20s in the city, 30s on the highway and mid/high-20s combined.

Handling is noticeably improved from the previous model. Steering is tighter, the lack of body sway and its resultant head-toss is almost unnoticeable and with the EcoBoost’s full torque at a much lower rpm makes it safer to drive on high-speed thoroughfares and higher elevations. Plus, a group of driver assistance technologies enhance the driving experience.

Things like Lane-Keeping System, Active Park Assist, electric power-assisted steering, Blind Spot Information System, Rear Camera, Cross-traffic alert and Adaptive cruise control. Combine these with the large amount of standard safety items like AdvanceTrac electronic stability control, SOS Post-Crash Alert System, four-channel, four-wheel disc brakes with ABS and a host of others and you’ll quickly see why the new Fusion is being touted as a “driver’s car.”

We drove the 1.6-liter EcoBoost with a manual transmission through the twists and turns and elevation changes of Topanga Canyon Road in the Los Angeles area. We found it an engaging vehicle. The transmission with its short throws and excellent clutch action was a joy to drive, and leaving it in third gear on the twists and turns seemed to be the sweet spot.

The well-tuned suspension kept the car flat, and cornering at higher speeds — as the traffic would allow — was near sports-car-like. We suspect most people will avoid the manual in favor of the automatic, but they will be missing out on some driving enjoyment.

For V-6-like performance, the 2.0-liter EcoBoost is a great choice. In addition to delivering excellent performance, the 2.0 offers fuel efficiency measured at 33 mpg highway and 22 city. That rivals — and beats — most six-cylinder engines found in the new 2013 models.

The new Fusion Hybrid drivetrain was the standout for us. It features an all-new 2.0-liter Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder gasoline engine, significantly downsized from the previous 2.5-liter unit while maintaining performance standards. This innovative powertrain is anticipated to deliver best-in-class fuel economy of 47 mpg in city driving and 44 mpg on the highway.
This fuel economy stands to outperform the 2012 Toyota Camry Hybrid by 4 mpg city and 5 mpg highway and the 2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid by 12 mpg and 4 mpg, respectively. This excellent mileage comes in part because Ford has elected to use the most advanced lithium-ion battery pack, shelving the old nickel-metal hydride battery, which is still found in many competitors.

With 188 horsepower, it performs much like the standard four-cylinder engines in today's mid-sized cars, which means it's more than adequate for all transportation needs with plenty of power to get things such as merging and passing down without drama.

The interior is roomy with a distinctly up-market look and feel. Seating is comfortable, higher-quality materials are evident, the center stack and instrumental panel have experienced a beautiful restructuring and with the lack of noise, the cabin might as well be hosting the opera when Carnegie Hall has a conflict. Depending on where the front seats are positioned, there’s almost as much rear-seat legroom as there is front.

The all-new Fusion offers the latest iteration of Ford’s SYNC communications and entertainment system, which enables voice-activated communication through a driver’s mobile phone and interaction with the car’s audio system. Fusion also offers the latest version of MyFord Touch that allows drivers to interact with vehicle systems through voice control, a touch screen tap or a conventional button.

Even with all the new technology, styling and mechanical improvements the 2013 Ford Fusion’s pricing carries on where its 2012 predecessor left off.

Finally, if you would like something a “bit” more fuel efficient you might be interested in the new 2013 Ford Fusion Energi, a plug-in hybrid that’s expected to achieve numbers around 100 MPGe (sic). It will arrive later in 2013.

With those numbers you’re going to have to learn to avoid hate-stares from Prius, Volt and other plug-in hybrid owners who “just couldn’t wait” for the new Fusion. Try not to appear smug; it’s not entirely their fault. 

— Al Vinikour and Jim Meachen